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Northwestern University

Buybacks and Release Time Policy

In certain, limited circumstances, always related to professional activities, a faculty member may find it necessary to apply for release time: the buying back of one or, exceptionally, two courses in order to free an uninterrupted period for a temporary need. The need for release time may arise in conjunction with a special administrative assignment in another part of the University, or it may arise from an externally funded research project.

Weinberg College does not encourage the buying back of courses to concentrate on research, since its students, undergraduate and graduate, come to Northwestern expecting to study with members of the full-time faculty.

Funds to pay the College’s charges for release time may come from a research grant, or from another (i.e., non-Weinberg College) unit in the University.

Application procedure

  1. A faculty member wishing to purchase release time from teaching with funds from a sponsored research grant calls his or her proposal to the attention of the department chairperson who will be signing off on the grant application.
  2. If the chair approves this buyback, the chair refers the proposal promptly to the Associate Dean for Faculty, explaining the rationale and commenting on the effect of forgone course(s) on the department’s teaching mission.
  3. The associate dean consults colleagues, and if necessary the Dean, and replies in writing.
  4. If the request is approved, the applicant makes provisions to pay for the buyback at the time he or she fills out the original grant application.

The dollar figure requested in the application to pay for the buyback must accord with the charge noted below, and must be budgeted in the grant application as salary and associated fringe benefits.

Permission for a reduction in teaching is unlikely to be granted if this procedure is not followed.

A faculty member proposing to purchase release time with monies from an already-funded grant or, infrequently, from academic-year salary follows the same procedure, commenting as well upon the unusual circumstances meriting such after-the-fact approval. However, rebudgeting and other complications may render approval of such extraordinary requests less likely.

University funded discretionary accounts may not be used to pay for buybacks unless prior approval from the dean has been granted.

A faculty member must follow the same steps if another unit of the University wishes to buy back his or her time so that he or she may take up an administrative role in that unit (e.g., associate dean in The Graduate School). In no case may release time be negotiated independently by a faculty member and a unit elsewhere in the University.

  1. The faculty member informs the unit wishing to buy his or her time of the amount of the charge noted below, and discusses the buyback with his or her department chair.
  2. If chair and faculty member agree on the desirability of the release time, the faculty member notes that fact in a written request to Associate Dean for Faculty at least one quarter before the start date of the time requested for release from teaching.
  3. The Associate Dean discusses the proposal with colleagues, replies in writing, and, when a request is granted, confirms the arrangement with the non-Weinberg unit. (When the College and a campus research center, such as the Institute for Policy Research, have a budgetary arrangement already in place, those other arrangements apply. The interested faculty member should consult the Associate Dean for Faculty.)


Buyouts funded by the Northwestern Office of Research may be at a different rate than the one given in the table below. Consult the WCAS Associate Dean for Faculty for the applicable rate.

For tenure-line faculty, the charge for a buyback is a percentage of the faculty member’s salary plus the associated fringe benefits. The rates below apply to course buyouts in a single year. Longer arrangements may be charged at a higher rate.

For members of the teaching-track faculty, the charge is a per-course fraction of salary, i.e., 16.7% of six-course salary rate for a one-course buyback, 33.3% for two, etc., plus the associated fringe benefits. On a nine-course load, the charge would be 11.1% for one course, 22.2% for two, etc., plus the associated fringe benefits.

TEACHING LOAD COST PER COURSE 1 course 2 courses 3 courses
5 12% 12% 24% N/A
4.5 13% 13% 27% N/A
4 15% 15% 30% N/A
3.5 17% 17% 34% N/A
3 20% 20% N/A N/A
2.5 24% 24% N/A
2 30% 30% N/A
1 60% 60%

The fringe benefit rate as of September 2020 is 27.2%, but this figure is subject to change. Current and projected future rates are listed at the following website:

Access the Course Buyout Request Form.

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